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Thread: Possible alternatives to Dromed?

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2004
    Location: Ireland/Poland

    Possible alternatives to Dromed?

    This is a purely theoretical question at this moment, but I would love to hear people's opinion - especially from coders.

    Do you think there is a chance of creating a level editor which would be an alternative to our old friend Dromed? Getting anything semi-complex using the one-and-only dark engine editor just takes ages and can be highly frustrating. Having more sophisticated tools on the other hand could shorten the mission development time hugely. More missions could be completed, more campaigns could be done, missions could be more polished. If you're familiar with any decent 3D application and node based editors, you know what I'm talking about.

    The level editor could either be done from scratch (ambitious version) or as an extension to some other generic level editor or a 3D application, like Blender, 3dsmax etc.
    From my perspective, the biggest challenges would be:
    - get .MIS and .GAM files formats known from A to Z, also their New Dark versions.
    - recreate a world building algorithm (CSG)
    - replicate Game Mode - launch Thief and playtest your current mission

    And if the full editor is not an option, there are still half-way solutions possible. We could have some better world building tools, but for finalizing and playtesting the mission, the .mis file would need to be opened in Dromed and the remaining work continued from there.

    Anyway, the possibilities could be amazing... What do you reckon?

  2. #2
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2007
    Location: LosAngeles: Between Amusements
    I don't think you have any idea how big a can of worms that would be. If you had asked this question two years ago, I might have responded differently but given the capabilities of NewDark, I don't see the need at this point in time. And if you want a more modern game platform, then maybe you should look at The Dark Mod. They have done some awesome stuff over there!

  3. #3
    DromEd Archmage
    Registered: Nov 2010
    Location: Returned to the eternal labor
    IMHO, this is an interesting idea. New Dark is great, but it still having some limits. Many mappers has been frustrated by NewDark because of that invisible ceiling that you strike each time, thinking that you were able to do a very complex mission. If you, Pinkdot, you think that you can a BETTER newdark with the possibility to edit custom motions easily, or the possibilites to create some multiplayer mission with the graphic of a newdark mission, then, I will totaly agree with your wish to recreate dromed!

    Although, your task will be very very big, you may be very motivated and you're not sure to be helped... :/
    I will enjoy to help you, but the IT student am I is not enough skilled for the moment to work with the codes... Maybe in a couple years who knows?

    But, yeah, that's an interesting idea! ^^

    Larry, Darkmod is cool, but alas, the map editing isn't so easy (especialy the installation of the level editor... It's the hell on earth!), the Thief world hasn't been kept for copyright, and above all: Famous old engine missions cannot be run with it... I will be very happy to play bafford mission with a reflecting water in the well, feeling the humidity in the basement etc.

  4. #4
    Member
    Registered: May 2002
    Location: Between dreams and shadows...
    Quote Originally Posted by FireMage View Post
    IMHO, this is an interesting idea. New Dark is great, but it still having some limits. Many mappers has been frustrated by NewDark because of that invisible ceiling that you strike each time, thinking that you were able to do a very complex mission.
    The majority of those are restrictions in the engine, not Dromed as such. Replacing the mission editor as PinkDot is suggesting would do nothing whatsoever to circumvent or avoid those restrictions because they're imposed when you're playing the game as well as when editing levels. The only situation I can think of where this isn't the case is when the CSG brushwork is being converted to the worldrep, where there are some irritating limits left (the maximum on render aspects during optimisation, for example).

    The only way to get rid of the limits imposed by the engine is to replace the engine as well as the level editor. Volca's openDarkEngine was an attempt at that, but as far as I know it has been stalled for quite some time.

    As for a replacement level editor, I'm with Larry here. I can't really see how the amount of effort involved in creating something comprehensive enough to be a usable replacement for, or event adjunct to, Dromed would be really worth it, as it would still need to impose the engine-mandated restrictions - it'd just be an alternative way of creating the CSG brushwork and/or worldrep, for people who don't like the way Dromed works. Which is fine enough, I guess, but would be a hellacious amount of effort.

    The above said, I would absolutely love to see a well written, comprehensive specs for the .mis, .gam, .cow, and .bin formats - especially the latter - because even if a full level editor would be more work than I'd think worth it, tools to operate on the formats safely would be nice, and a complete replacement for the mess that is bsp.exe would be worth its bytes in gold.
    Last edited by The Watcher; 25th Apr 2014 at 08:05.

  5. #5
    Member
    Registered: Jan 2009
    Location: Germany
    Sometime I wish a terrain generator. It's a pain to create landscapes with mountains, cliffs and rivers.

  6. #6
    ZylonBane
    Registered: Sep 2000
    Location: ZylonBane
    Quote Originally Posted by The Watcher View Post
    The above said, I would absolutely love to see a well written, comprehensive specs for the .mis, .gam, .cow, and .bin formats
    The leaked engine source code is out there. Have at it.

  7. #7
    Member
    Registered: Sep 2013
    Quote Originally Posted by The Watcher View Post
    a complete replacement for the mess that is bsp.exe would be worth its bytes in gold.
    How about this?

  8. #8
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2004
    Location: Ireland/Poland
    @LarryG - I know DarkMod. I even used to be a team member years ago and did some level editing too. Playing with dark engine however is a different sort of a puzzle. To me there's something appealing in the substractive world building, even if you can't build everything with that. Dromed is the last known engine to me that supports it.
    And even with New Dark there's still a lot that could be improved in the workflow. Last year I had a try in building something to the limits of the NewDark. At some stage strange errors started popping up, which were due more to the order of the brushes, rather than the complexity of resulting architecture. But navigating and editing hundreds and thousands of brushes became impossible at some stage. I thnk that's what happens with a lot of people - you start building quite quickly, as substractive method lets you do that. But then you just find yourself in an endless mess of primitives and managing that is just so poor in Dromed. Poor and bugged.

    @Watcher - there are some things in the engine that could be pushed farther if the editor lets you do that. Especially now, with the New Dark.
    1) better lightmaps - we could have GI and/or ambient occlusion, rather than just direct lights and plain ambient colour. Transparencies (e.g. foliage) would cast transparent shadows. You could even cheat more and have light maps for anim lights baked as if it was a directional (not a point) light. This would open possibilities for animated sun/moon light.
    2) more interesting architecture/level geometry - Dromed is pretty limited on the number of primitives. As far as I understand the way dark engine likes the world to be build, the primitives could be of any shape as long as they are convex. Of course, introducing too irregular shapes would cause too complex geometry and texturing inaccuracies, but some more freedom would be very welcome.

    The editing capabilities could be improved greatly too:
    1) better scene navigation, brush and object management and batch processing
    2) scripting abilities - if we use existing 3D application as a base for the editor, people could finally script certain aspects of level building. I know there has been a few attempts to that, with the CowGen being the most popular, but if you do a search on CowGen in TTLG you'll find more threads asking on the status on it, is it dead etc. rather than an example of anything done with it....
    3) more sophisticated tools - e.g. painting with grass and trees on uneven terrain
    4) node editors for the gameplay aspects. (visual objects linking etc.)
    4) less frustration, more fun. Basically things done much quicker and better.

    I would absolutely love to see a well written, comprehensive specs for the .mis, .gam, .cow, and .bin formats
    A lot of this is documented already by Telliamed, Volca, Shadowspawn and Nameless Voice, I think. AI and objects .bin formats among others. The former however - I'm not sure if these are known completely.

    Sometime I wish a terrain generator. It's a pain to create landscapes with mountains, cliffs and rivers.
    Some sort of terrain generating could be done definitely, but you need to keep in mind that dark engine does not support any smooth shading of the world geometry. So the terrain would have to be triangulated with sharp edges.

  9. #9
    Member
    Registered: May 2002
    Location: Between dreams and shadows...
    Quote Originally Posted by nemyax View Post
    How about this?
    That involves Blender. Let's say I'm a Lightwave user, and leave it at that.

    Quote Originally Posted by ZylonBane View Post
    The leaked engine source code is out there. Have at it.
    When I win that lottery this weekend and can spend time on such things, I'll be happy to!

    And admittedly, those would be nice PinkDot, I still question whether the huge amount of work required would be worth it, really.
    Last edited by The Watcher; 25th Apr 2014 at 19:22.

  10. #10
    Member
    Registered: Sep 2013
    Quote Originally Posted by The Watcher View Post
    When I win that lottery this weekend and can spend time on such things, I'll be happy to!
    If you have no intention of working on tools (barring a lottery win), why are you asking for format documentation? For people who actually create tools, the leaked sources and previous reverse engineering efforts are about as comprehensive a spec as it's ever going to get.

  11. #11
    Member
    Registered: May 2002
    Location: Between dreams and shadows...
    Did I say anything about not working on tools? No, I did not. I was replying purely about documentation. Documentation, especially well written and comprehensive, is always far harder to write, it generally requires a lot more time, and different skills than most coders typically have.

    Given a decent spec, writing tools can be simple. Writing a decent spec is an entirely different matter.

  12. #12
    Member
    Registered: Sep 2013
    The Watcher
    If you want to add .bin support to Lightwave, I can share what I know with you. You can then turn this (and other info) into a spec.

  13. #13
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2004
    Location: Ireland/Poland
    @Watcher
    I'm planning to release some documentation as well at some stage. Could you point me to some example of a good specs, so I know better what the standards are?

    BTW. I am also using 010 Editor for understanding the binary files. I have created so called templates, which parse the file and map values to variables. If the template parses the file with no errors, it usually means that I understand the file completely.

  14. #14
    Member
    Registered: Jan 2004
    Location: Prince Edward Island, Canada
    Quote Originally Posted by FireMage View Post
    Larry, Darkmod is cool, but alas, the map editing isn't so easy (especialy the installation of the level editor... It's the hell on earth!),
    How was it hell on earth to install? This is the first time I've ever heard anyone say installing DR is hell on earth, especially when it's probably one of the more user friendly level editors out there.
    Run the installer, start Dark Radiant and then click 'file/ select game' and point DR to whatever location you installed The Dark Mod.

    This should be the extent of setting up.


    If you're used to subtraction based editing then you might find the editing harder, but overall most who have come from Dromed say that it's simply a different process and that the actual editing tools are much easier to use.
    Last edited by New Horizon; 26th Apr 2014 at 13:54.

  15. #15
    Member
    Registered: May 2002
    Location: Between dreams and shadows...
    Quote Originally Posted by PinkDot View Post
    Could you point me to some example of a good specs, so I know better what the standards are?
    Some of the better ones I've had to work with are things like PNG, TIFF, and the LWO2 spec (with the associated examples discussion)

    Things that set good specs apart from less well-written ones are things like:
    • If needed, descriptions of the concepts involved in the format.
    • Specification of the datatypes used through the rest of the spec, including endianness (or notes about whether the format itself specifies the endianness, like TIFF does)
    • Full explanation of what each field in each part of the format: datatype used, if appropriate which values are supported, what it is for. Possibly given as either (E)BNF or c-struct with supporting explanations.
    • Where appropriate, psuedocode or well-commented example code to illustrate how to generate, write, or read the more complex parts of data.
    • Extra marks for diagrams - overviews of how the file is structured, how the data is structured in each chunk of the format.
    • Examples, with annotations and explanations, covering at least the most common use cases.

  16. #16
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2007
    Location: LosAngeles: Between Amusements
    I would really like replacements for mshbld, bin2e, and BSP. Assumong that it can be done in a less buggy, more robust, and better documented manner. There is nothing wrong with 3ds based file conversion especially for those of use who don't use Lightwave or blender or Maya. Building plugins for those tool are cool, but not of the most general use. A standalone utility which will convert to/from standard graphics formats (3ds, max, obj, etc.) and bin (mesh and standard) would be of most general applicability. Then you could do a plugin front end for graphics tool of your choice while still having something that the rest of us could use.

  17. #17
    Member
    Registered: Sep 2013
    Quote Originally Posted by LarryG View Post
    A standalone utility which will convert to/from standard graphics formats (3ds, max, obj, etc.) and bin (mesh and standard) would be of most general applicability.
    The problem with standalone conversion is it has to be generic, and you have to adapt your 3D content to the conventions it imposes. Hence the crackpot naming schemes, extra garbage objects and masochistic micromanagement. Whereas a package-specific converter lets you efficiently use features that more or less directly match the tasks.

  18. #18
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2004
    Location: Ireland/Poland
    @Watcher
    Thanks for the examples. (only the first two links worked for me, but that gives me some idea.) Indeed a good documentation can be a project on its own. Some of the file formats, like the mesh or AI .BIN files are much simpler however.

    Last year, I have made an importer for 3dsmax for the .dof file format (it's a model mesh format for some free racing game). The documentation is much simpler but was generally enough for me (only a few things I had to investigate):
    http://racer.nl/dof.htm

    ---
    Quote Originally Posted by LarryG
    I would really like replacements for mshbld, bin2e, and BSP. Assumong that it can be done in a less buggy, more robust, and better documented manner. There is nothing wrong with 3ds based file conversion especially for those of use who don't use Lightwave or blender or Maya. Building plugins for those tool are cool, but not of the most general use. A standalone utility which will convert to/from standard graphics formats (3ds, max, obj, etc.) and bin (mesh and standard) would be of most general applicability. Then you could do a plugin front end for graphics tool of your choice while still having something that the rest of us could use.
    Surely, having a standalone application would be a nice thing. However, at least in my case, it's simply a matter of skills... I can do scripting in Max, but I can't do coding in any language that let's me do standalone apps. Not at this moment, at least.
    But I believe there are some coders around who can, so let's keep fingers crossed it's a matter of them having a good documentation only...

  19. #19
    Desperately Dodgy Moderator
    Registered: Nov 2001
    Location: Fields of bluegrass
    My coding skills these days tend to web stuff, so a console app that mashes bytes and bits and stuff is probably not a good project for me.

  20. #20
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2007
    Location: LosAngeles: Between Amusements
    But a user interface might be?

  21. #21
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2004
    Location: Ireland/Poland
    Quote Originally Posted by Watcher
    And admittedly, those would be nice PinkDot, I still question whether the huge amount of work required would be worth it, really.
    Yeah, I totally see your point - the project could end up with a scenario, that only 1 or 2 people actually use it...

    But from the author(s)'s point of view - the experienced gained would be invaluable. A real playground before some serious, possibly commercial project.

  22. #22
    Desperately Dodgy Moderator
    Registered: Nov 2001
    Location: Fields of bluegrass
    Quote Originally Posted by LarryG View Post
    But a user interface might be?
    Well, yeah, depending. I've done plenty of UI design using HTML with jQueryUI, and I'm currently learning Ruby on Rails with Twitter Bootstrap to do quick interfaces, but again those are all web clients and I'm sure this would be a console app. I could help design it perhaps, but I wouldn't be much good with coding it, assuming it's done in C++/C# or something like that. Doesn't make much sense to make a web server/API for something like this.

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